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Aston Martin Looks to Raise Funds for New Models: Report

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Aston Martin is preparing to raise funds to expand its range of models into new areas including crossover SUVs, two sources with knowledge of the matter said, as the loss-making sports car maker steps up its turnaround efforts under a new boss.

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The British high-end marque is working on plans to issue new shares or bonds and extend its current recovery strategy by three years to 2020, the sources said, adding that luxury sedans and hybrid models also featured in its plans.

"It's an expansion from the current model range," one said, speaking anonymously because the matter isn't public.

Aston Martin, James Bond's carmaker of choice, is the underdog in a British luxury auto industry dominated by Tata-owned <TAMO.NS> Jaguar Land Rover, its next-door neighbour in the otherwise quiet Warwickshire village of Gaydon.

Held back by its ageing models and weak investment, the company has missed out on a luxury car boom that saw the global market almost double in five years. Last year it delivered 4,200 cars, far short of a pre-financial crisis peak of 7,300 in 2007.

Aston Martin is examining debt- or equity-raising options to finance a bigger plan, the sources said. Further cash will be freed up by more efficient management of working capital such as vehicle and parts inventory.

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The fundraising would generate 100-150 million pounds ($156-$234 million), with any new shares offered to current investors, said one of the sources, close to the strategy discussions.

Aston Martin and its main private-equity backers, Kuwait's Investment Dar and Italy's Investindustrial, declined to comment. Bondholder Waddell & Reed did not return calls.

Milan-based Investindustrial and the Kuwaitis together control 93 percent of Aston Martin, acquired in successive capital raisings since Ford <F.N> sold the company in 2007.

A further 5 percent is held by Daimler <DAIGn.DE>, underpinning a partnership struck last year for the German firm to supply Mercedes engines and technology to Aston Martin.

Aston has already begun updating existing models under a 500 million pound investment strategy drawn up in 2012, when Investindustrial paid 150 million pounds for a 37.5 percent stake. That plan sees a replacement for the 120,000 pound DB9 in late 2016 and a return to profitability the following year.

At a lavish party in London last week, new Chief Executive Andy Palmer unveiled a DB10 concept car that will feature in the next Bond film, "Spectre", and may offer design clues about future production models.

"It will come as no surprise when I say that the year ahead is going to be busy across the board," Palmer told guests.

ROUGH YEAR

Aston may be happy to see the back of 2014, which began with the recall of 17,590 cars to address defective accelerator pedals. More recently, it won an exemption from safety rules that threatened U.S. sales of the coupe and convertible versions of its DB9 and Vantage models.

However, Palmer's room for manoeuvre remains limited by 410 million pounds of existing debt, maturing in July 2018. Weak credit ratings inflated financing costs to 26.9 million pounds last year, when Aston recorded a 16.7 million net loss.

The company is paying out 10.25 percent annually on the latest $165 million bond issue in March, whose CCC+ rating from Standard & Poor's was closer to default than investment grade.

The upgraded strategy will be announced at the Geneva auto show in March, the sources said.

Sales of the new models will add to Aston's recovery goal of 7,500 deliveries for the core sports cars, bringing the overall target closer to 10,000, one source said.

The push faces toughening competition, with Maserati and Bentley <VOWG_p.DE> already moving into SUVs. Besides the Maserati expansion, Fiat Chrysler <FCHA.MI> has said Ferrari's annual production cap of 7,000 vehicles should increase.

"The super-premium market is about to get pretty crowded, and the cost of competing there is high," said London-based Exane analyst Stuart Pearson.

Success or failure may hang on "how much Aston can draw on the partnership with Daimler and leverage its research and development," he said.

Palmer, who filled a CEO vacancy that had been open since Ulrich Bez's retirement last year, has already hinted at grander plans for the four-door Taraf sedan launched in the Middle East in limited volumes this year under the revived Lagonda brand.

Daimler has also said it could share SUV architecture with Aston, a message broadly reiterated by CEO Dieter Zetsche after Palmer's September appointment.

The two men became well acquainted as Daimler increased development and manufacturing cooperation with Nissan <7201.T>, where Palmer, 51, served as CEO Carlos Ghosn's second-ranked lieutenant until his defection.

Within his first six weeks in Gaydon, Palmer hired former Nissan marketing chief Simon Sproule and, in a clear sign of intent, created positions for three vehicle programme chiefs within a new planning department.

(By Laurence Frost and Costas Pitas; Editing by Mark Potter)